Italy’s far-right crackdown on migrants

The new Italian Immigration Law represents a peak in the government’s hostility against migrants, writes Caterina Mazzilli

December 13, 2018 · 8 min read
Migrants queuing up for medical care and support services in Catania, Sicily, 2015. Photo by IFRC (Flickr).

Italy’s Immigration Law has been characterised by a large use of temporary emergency measures since its very establishment. A look at its decrees and laws reveals, at best a political hurriedness to make a quick fix during times of higher arrivals, and at worst a conscious lack of responsibility towards asylum seekers, migrants and its own citizens.

Although already ingrained in the Italian system, the hostility towards immigration has reached a peak in the last couple of years.

The far-right on the rise

After a stand-off lasted for three months as a consequence of the 4th March 2018 elections, the right-wing party Lega and the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement have agreed on their Contratto di Governo (Government Contract), forming the new government on 1st June. Immigration is now at the top of the government’s agenda – unsurprisingly, seeing as this was the main strength of Lega’s electoral campaign, in which they reinforced false tropes linking immigration to crime, lack of safety and public disturbance. These were nothing new – they had become popular under the 2002 and 2009 Berlusconi’s governments, first with Boss-Fini Law and then with the Pacchetto Sicurezza (Security Pack). The 5 Star Party, although their stance was more vague, conveyed the general message of opposing immigration through slogans as Obiettivo sbarchi zero (Zero landings goal); stating that “Italy is not the refugee camp of Europe”.

A breakdown of the 2018 votes shows the picture of a country still fractured between North and South, and explains a lot about the rising of the far-right in recent years. Since the collapse of the Communist Party in 1991, there has not been a single left-wing party capable to reach such a wide a popular base and to establish such a diffused presence in cities and neighbourhoods. Its successors, among which Renzi’s Democratic Party, have been fractured to the point that, in 2018 elections, it ran separately from other parties on the left; generating poor results. Liberi e Uguali (Free and Equal), a federation of the Democratic and Progressive Movement, Italian Left and Possibile, gained a number of votes just above the 3% threshold to participate in the government, while Potere al Popolo (Power to the People), a far-left coalition, gained only 1% of the votes.

Rightwing and far-right groups were fast to fill vacuum left by the Left, especially at the local level. On the one side, they catalysed the social tension grown during the years of the economic crisis around the threat of immigration for Italian jobs and welfare, while on the other side some far-right groups, as CasaPound, started being more and more present at the local level and even providing services for destitute people; but distributing their ideology together with them. In this climate, Lega’s and 5 Stars’ electoral success was a logical consequence.

The new Immigration Law

On 28th November, the Italian Parliament approved the proposal for a new Immigration Law. The norm reforms policies related to a number of themes, such as asylum, immigration, citizenship, public security and use of properties confiscated from mafia. Below there are a few examples of its impact:

Abolition of ‘humanitarian protection’

The protezione umanitaria (humanitarian protection) is a permit ranging from 6 months to 2 years that can be granted to individuals coming from critical situations putting them in danger, but do not fit all the requirements for the refugee status. Until now, it could be granted to people fleeing crisis or an emergency situation as natural disasters, conflicts or if the applicants were victims of exploitation and trafficking – as in the case of the North Africa Emergency of 2012. The new law will substitute this with a new residence permit for “special cases” but its duration is still unknown. Applicants accepted for it will be individuals suffering of serious health issues and in need of medical care, fleeing from “exception calamities” and victims of domestic violence or aggravated work exploitation. We all know that the line between refugees and migrants is very thin. Ultimately, it is down to the person processing the application to decide whether or not the person fits in the “refugee box”. Abolishing this measure will just tighten the chances to obtain a protection, leaving more people in the shadow of illegality.

Refugees and asylum seekers left stranded

The national SPRAR service (Servizi di Protezione per Richiedenti Asilo e Rifugiati/Protection Service for Asylum Seekers and Refugees), now receiving both asylum seekers and refugees, will be open to refugees and unaccompanied minors only; while asylum seekers will be hosted in CAS (Centri di Accoglienza Straordinaria/Extraordinary Reception Centre). While most of the SPRARs are located within urban centres or – in the best cases – even in apartments, CAS are structures outside inhabited areas, scarcely fit to house people because originally used for other purposes. They were introduced in the reception system to make up for the lack of places in more structured reception project. Considering their precarious setting, the duration of the asylum seekers’ stay in a CAS should be limited to the time needed to relocate them in a centre of secondary reception, although, at present, 80% of the asylum seekers in Italy lingers in this supposedly temporary arrangement.

Funding cuts

The sum assigned to the bodies managing reception centers for the daily support of an asylum seeker will be reduced from 35 to 20 euros per day. It is hard to evaluate which of these measures could be the most damaging, but this will undoubtedly have a huge impact on the living conditions of asylum seekers. The current 35 euros allocated for the support of every user comprehend the maintenance of the shelter, the provision of food and the salary of the social workers who manage the project. Asylum seekers end up receiving – cash in hand – around 2.50 euros per day.  Considering that the current quota is barely sufficient to support asylum seekers’ basic needs, 20 euros will definitely not allow a dignifying reception. This will raise up tensions on the side of asylum seekers, but also social workers could be suffering from the same cuts: their salaries will most likely be reduced and/or their contracts made more unstable; in a sector which is already known to be critical.

Creating a ‘common enemy’

After years of accusing the lazy South of living off the toil of the productive North, Lega has switched its target – devoting most of its energies to the construction of an image of foreigners as a security threat for Italian jobs, benefits and vulnerable people. In a video that went recently  viral on social media, actor Andrea Pennacchi sarcastically praises foreigners because they have managed to do “what Cavour couldn’t”, that is to unite Italians from the North and the South against one enemy from Africa. The Interior Minister Salvini and its party have actually fostered the narrative that pictures them tolerant with regular, “good” migrants but opposes “clandestini”, a derogatory term used in Italy to define irregulars while associating them to crime and public disturbance; although, according to official reports, crime has actually decreased in recent years. Successive governments have taken a hostile attitude to mirgants in order to look like they’re solving social problems, all whilst the economy stagnates. The crackdown on migrants, the funding cuts to for reception and integration facilities will do nothing but escalate tensions.

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